And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly―Mark 8:23-25
A feeling of inferiority? No, a feeling of nonexistence. Sin is Negro as virtue is white. All those white men in a group, guns in their hands, cannot be wrong. I am guilty. I do not know of what, but I know that I am no good.―Frantz Fanon
So, we may ask the question what is distinctive about anti-black racism, and why has it emerged as the dominant narrative informing our understanding of contemporary racism?
Frantz Fanon’s existential phenomenology offers a window into the “fact of blackness” in Black Skin White Masks, capturing the reality of the black condition in ways many blacks today consider to be the inescapable reality of anti-black racism, in a world blighted by “white supremacy.” Our opening quote is a visceral illustration of that. Fanon borrows this vignette, from Richard Wrights novel, Native Son, of its twenty year-old protagonist, Bigger Thomas. Bigger, who lives with his mother, sister and brother in a shabby, rat infested apartment on the South Side of Chicago, known as the “Black Belt”, has lived a life defined by the fear and anger he has internalised towards whites. The shame of poverty reflected back to him by the constant bombardment of popular culture’s representation of blacks as subservient and savage, in contrast to whites being sophisticated and privileged, leave him feeling emotionally bereft and socially inadequate.
Earlier in the same passage, Fanon wrestles with the ontological paradoxes of blackness, drawing parallels between anti-Semitism and anti-black racism, citing Sartre in Anti-Semite and Jew (p.95), he writes: “ They [the Jews] have allowed themselves to be poisoned by the stereotype that others have of them, and they live in fear that their acts will correspond to this stereotype…We may say that their conduct is perpetually overdetermined from the inside.” In response to Sartre, Fanon on the basis of his own subjective experience, arrives at a different outcome: “Granted, the Jews are harassed …what am I thinking of ? They are hunted down, exterminated, cremated. But these are little family quarrels. the Jew is disliked from the moment he is tracked down. But in my case everything takes on a new guise. I am given no chance. I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the “idea” that others have of me but of my own appearance.”(p.260).
Fanon’s concern with the dialectical relationship between invisibility and visibility―a consequence of anti-black racism, is inextricably linked to the historical struggles of black people for recognition. As we have seen in Part I of this essay, the dynamics of racial formation have shaped the constitution of racial subjectivity for racial and ethnic minorities by the essential trait of skin colour: the darker the skin, the greater the subordination. Fanon has already identified this phenomenon as “overdetermination”― in that “black people are faced with the dilemma that the principal mode of personal progress and self-elevation open to them is precisely through self-denial, through effacement, the obliteration of blackness” (Goldberg, 1996, p.185). Consequently, in the eyes of anti-black racists, “There is no black autobiography in anti-black worlds” (Gordon 1995, p.30).
Arguably, Fanon’s work has been foundational to critical race theory, in shaping understanding about the effects and affects of anti-black racism and its concomitant violence against black people.
More recently, the BLM protests seem to have shifted focus from the death of George Floyd to the toppling of statues and monuments, and the dismantling of western Christian theodicy considered coterminously, symbols of―and the ideology underpinning―white supremacy. Although not a new development in the artillery of black resistance, the UK Reparation movement, also known as ARM UK, was formed in 1993, following the Abuja Proclamation declared at the First Pan-African Conference on Reparations, in Abuja, Nigeria in the same year. The conference was convened by the Organisation of African Unity and the Nigerian government. Alongside the revival of interest in BLM, ironically, the Reparations Movement which has long been ignored by the mainstream media, is now championed as a cause célèbre. For example see, It’s time for Britain to think seriously about reparations for slavery, Amandla Thomas-Johnson in (The Guardian June 10, 2020).
It is not clear from media accounts to what extent today’s Black Lives Matter activists are aware of the historical trajectory of black movements in the UK, and the legal basis and argument put forward for Reparations, as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, by Anthony Gifford QC . I sat in the house of Lords in 1996 as he delivered this historical speech (along with family and friends, and some of those considered at the time, to be some of the Labour Party’s key supporters of ARM UK―Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbot, Linda Bellos, Bernie Grant). The document, has gathered much dust over the years, and in 2012, the news of the Church of England’s apology, for its role in the Transatlantic slave trade, demonstrated that Tony Gifford had been way ahead of his time (as I believed at that time). He had also taught me, a master class in what it meant to embrace life as a conscious pariah in the presence of a hostile crowd, and the value of standing firm on ones convictions. Needless to say, it was still dispiriting to look on as some of his peers in the House of Lord’s, routinely mocked, and jeered, dismissing the speech with complete incredulity and utter contempt. Here is a snapshot of that legal argument By Lord Anthony Gifford, British Queens Counsel and Jamaican Attorney-at-Law developed delivered at a Pan-African conference in Abuja:
The legal basis for the claim:
1. The enslavement of Africans was a crime against humanity
2. International law recognises that those who commit crimes against humanity must make reparation
3. There is no legal, barrier to prevent those who still suffer the consequences of crimes against humanity from claiming reparations, even though the crimes were committed against their ancestors
4. The claim would be brought on behalf of all Africans, in Africa and in the Diaspora, who suffer the consequences of the crime, through the agency of an appropriate representative body
5. The claim would be brought against the governments of those counties which promoted and were enriched by the African slave trade and the institution of slavery
6. The amount of the claim would be assessed by experts in each aspect of life and in each region, affected by the institution of slavery
7. The claim, if not settled by agreement, would ultimately be determined by a special international tribunal recognised by all parties
My views have changed since then, and my thoughts about reparations are now informed by my Christian faith, which I hope to share in another essay exploring, reflexivity and testimony, as ethnographies of the soul.
Having once been located at the heart and soul of these struggles as an academic on the Left, I find myself struggling to write about how something which I once held so sincerely, metamorphosised into a caricature of all that I had once thought it could be. Particularly, what I had considered, the potential for radical black liberatory movements to transform the lives of black people, now hijacked by opportunists, celebrities, Leftist/Liberal elites, and increasingly, a band of apparatchik co-religionists, promoting their own nefarious political agendas. But as I matured in my walk as a Christian and my vocation as an academic, it became clear to me, that this mode of liberation and its worldview did not offer a balm for the spiritual maladies that plagued my own heart; nor did they satiate my souls yearning after freedom. And contrary to the black feminist icon, Lorde, I have come to learn that, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). I think Thomas Oden in The Transforming Power of Grace, captures this journey of disassembling, well:
Protestant Christianity, whether in its liberal or conservative garb, finds itself waking up each morning in bed with a deteriorating modern culture, between sheets with a raunchy sexual reductionism, despairing scientism, morally normless cultural relativism, and self-assertive individualism. We remain resident aliens, OF the world but not profoundly in it, dining at the banquet table of waning modernity without a whisper of table grace. We all wear biblical name tags (Joseph, David, and Sarah), but have forgotten what our Christian names mean.
At any rate, I did not want to teach students how to transgress, but rather, as God’s providence would have it, in arresting and wresting me from my own transgressions, I had been ordained for peace. It is the truth I came to learn from the Master Liberator himself: this is how I set captives free.
Decolonisation and liberation
After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God’? To those who are possessed of this spirit there is scarcely any book of incident so trifling that does not afford some profit, while to others the experience of ages seems of no use; and even to pour out to them the treasures of wisdom is throwing the jewels of instruction away.
― Olaudah Equiano
Reflexivity and Damascus conversions aside, the call for reparations within the BLM movement is coupled with the demand for the dismantling of the theodicy of colonial Christianity, currently translated in new anti-racist speak, as “white supremacist evangelical Christianity.”
This begs the question, can anti-racism do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?
The literature on antiracism within the humanist secular worldview is vast and its contemporary cannon, exemplified by popular works such as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (which I have not yet read), continue to promote a paradigm of anti-racism based on white guilt, that amount to an oversimplified dynamic of white oppressors and black victims. There is also a substantial body of scholarship in the social sciences, social work, and education (some of which I have critically reviewed in my own doctoral research and have shared some of these references in Part I of this essay), that critique and document this approach.
In a recent review of DiAngelo’s book, Samuel Sey writes, “In anti-racism ideology, racism isn’t an enticing sin, it’s an entity—or as DiAngelo references in the book—“an omnipresent phenomenon.” And by that definition of racism, it’s not difficult to notice the religious overtones of anti-racism.” While some may frown upon Sey’s theological tone, I must confess my indebtedness to Sey, for relieving me from the task of having my soul cudgelled into the darker recesses of racialised ressentiment. As far as I have been able to glean from some of the reviews and articles I have read about White Fragility, Sey, rightly identifies the simplistic nature of this particular model of anti-racism—prejudice plus power equals: white racism—and its implications for Christianity. In doing so, he adds to a growing body of critiques that have pointed out the incompatibility of anti-racist approaches, rooted in the secular worldview of critical race theory, with that of a biblical worldview of justice.
Evidently, ideas about anti-black racism promulgated by the more cultic strains of the anti-racist high priests, are in danger of promoting a skewed picture of the contemporary reality of blacks, that consists of an ubiquitous all consuming white racism. Overwhelmingly, it casts black people as victims, thus denying diversity of perspectives and individual agency. Strangely, this has become the dominant orthodoxy in challenging racism, within a wider framework of intersectional social justice. Along with this iteration of anti-racism, comes all the rejoicing of the false religion of Lo-Debar (a thing of nought), including the very same idolatries of which it charges western oppressors. The pitting of the identity gods against one another, is subjected to futility in a zero-sum game of power.
Central to the struggle against anti-black racism, is the project of decolonisation. In the concluding chapter of Wretched of The Earth, Fanon writes:
Yet it is very true that we need a model, and that we want blueprints and examples. For many among us the European model is the most inspiring. We have therefore seen in the preceding pages to what mortifying set-backs such an imitation has led us. European achievements, European techniques and the European style ought no longer to tempt us and to throw us off our balance.
The philosopher, Lewis R. Gordon also writes:
Rationalizations of Western thought often led to a theodicy of Western civilization, of Western civilization as a system that was complete on all levels of human life, on levels of description (what is) and prescription (what ought to be), of being and value, while its incompleteness, its failure to be so, lived by those constantly being crushed under its heels, remained a constant source of anxiety often in the form of social denial. People of color, particularly black people, lived the contradictions of this self-deception continually through attempting to live this theodicy in good faith. This lived contradiction emerged because a demand often imposed upon people of color is that they accept the tenets of Western civilization without being critical beings. Critical consciousness asks not only whether systems are consistently applied, but also whether the systems themselves are compatible with other projects, especially humanistic ones. (p.1)
Western theodicy, has indeed played an ideologically pernicious role in the constitution and valorisation of the colonized ‘other’. Moreover, Hegel’s view that Africa is no historical part of the world, exemplifies the ideological construct of primitivism, which Young (2000) argues, denies “subject people’s human agency and resistance and constructed explanatory models to account for the alterity of those subjects (ibid, p.235)
The myopia of Hegel and many other western thinkers like him notwithstanding, assumptions about paganism are never a culturally specific phenomenon, but rather universally diverse in all of their particular expressions. Under the banner of Christendom and its expansionist excesses of colonialism, various forms of [Western] cultural imperialism amplified the ethnic and racial specificity of the pagan ‘other’, while surreptitiously masking the paganism of its own. However, Yahweh, since the time of our father Abraham until this present day, is calling a people of every tribe, tongue, and nation out of national and familial attachments to paganism. Transcendent to the deities by whom nations are being held culturally captive—the gods of nationalism, racism, tribalism, and identitarianism—God, is also calling his people out from thraldoms of cultural Christianity, in which these schisms have been instantiated.
Of course, as Gordon points out, this has played a huge part in the deleterious effects Christendom has had in rationalising and upholding systems of racial injustice. Historically, this has been demonstrated by the role Europe and the US played in the Transatlantic Slave trade, Jim Crow segregation, and more recently the iniquitous system of South African Apartheid, which stubbornly, only came to an end in 1994. However, it is worth noting that while racial disparities continue to plague blacks consigning them to contemporary dens of socio-economic inequity and generational cycles of poverty, in comparison to whites, as we have seen, this is not the universal experience for all black people of African and African-Caribbean descent in the UK, or indeed, African-Americans in the US, and African Diaspora. And yet of this history, Fanon asserts, “I am not a prisoner of history…I am not the slave of the slavery that dehumanised my ancestors.”
While racialised narratives can show how certain forms of ‘strategic essentialism’ accentuating black phenotype, may have positive effects in raising awareness about black identity and a multitude of evils endemic to anti-black racism to a wider public, it is also important to recognize its negative effects when deployed paternalistically. In Frantz Fanon’s oeuvre, he demands both the right to negate and create blackness, in terms of its past and futurity.
Presently, in mainstream media discourse, and newly woke post-evangelical spaces, there remains a tendency towards promoting racialized caricatures of black people, as being synonymous with victimhood, resulting in the infantilisation and objectification of blackness. Another interesting paradox, in Fanon’s thinking― perhaps somewhat jarring for today’s Black Nationalist ideologues and their Progressive white allies―is his rejection of the idea of reparations, arguing, ”I have neither the right nor the duty to claim reparation for the domestication of my ancestors.”
Rather poignantly, he continues: “In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving some black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. My black skin is not a repository for specific values. Haven’t I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the blacks of the 17th century?”
Those promoting the idea within the Christian worldview on justice, that reconciliation is inextricably linked to reparations, might think again.
Clearly, Fanon’s humanistic revolutionary worldview, is diametrically opposed to that of biblical Christianity, but it is interesting to note how he invokes a number of biblical phrases in his writings. For example, his appeal to the ‘wretched of the earth’ and the ‘first being last and the last first,’ as well as his anti-colonial concept of the ‘new man’. These concepts have been wrested from the biblical narrative and divested of power and spiritual meaning. It is important to see how biblical concepts such as ‘justice’, ‘truth’, ‘liberation’, and so on, are subverted within secular and liberatory (religious) movements for social justice, to meet their own ideological goals, contrary to the Christian worldview from whence they came. In disentangling this conflation of purpose―between the telos of biblical justice, and that of the Marxist worldview of revolutionary justice (which in Fanon’s case, is bloody and violent), we are better placed to, proclaim Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God, rather than the wisdom of this world.
In this sense, it is quite striking to see confusion about freedom/ liberation at work today, within the church and historically in the case of the Pharisees, concerning the essential nature of Jesus and his purpose―Christ, our Jubilee /Liberator―who tells them: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” It is worth noting here, that it took the murder of an Egyptian, betrayal by a fellow Hebrew, and forty years in the desert before Moses came to a correct knowledge of the truth about liberation. In a review of the history of Israel, Stephen, in his testimony before the Sanhedrin reminds us: “This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush” (Acts 7:35). The Pharisees, supposedly strict adherents of Moses, rejected that they were in bondage, exemplifying the characteristics of false religious, leaders, teachers and prophets throughout scripture (OT and NT), who bring others into bondage: ” While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Peter 2:19). Their understanding of the scriptures had become a stumbling block to them in that they rejected the Stone, who was a rock of offence to them: consequently, their minds were blinded, due to their unbelief (2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Isaiah 6: 9-10; 8:20; 29: 10-13; 42:19-20; John 12:37-41). “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44)
Like their forerunner, King Zedekiah, the Pharisees did not have a correct understanding of Jubiliee, Jesus announced at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21. They could not comprehend that he was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s 61:1-4) prophecy:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. “
The Pharisees were as equally blinded as Zedekiah (who eventually suffered the consequences of his rebellion, having his eyes gouged out by the Babylonians): “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:40).
The Lord had sent Jeremiah to remind Zedekiah of the covenant (of Jubilee) he had made with the Israelites:
“This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem,
to proclaim liberty unto them;
That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother.” (Jeremiah 34:8-9)
Having heard this, all the princes and people of Jerusalem who had entered into this covenant proceeded to set at liberty all those that were in servitude to them. They heard, obeyed, and let them go.
But soon after letting the people go, they reneged on their covenant and brought the people back into bondage.
“Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying,
At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear.” (Jeremiah 34:13-14)
The consequences for Israel and king Zedekiah, were devastating.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in
proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.“
Suffice to say, if you are in Christ Jesus, you have been reconciled (and are being reconciled), and liberated. Anyone proclaiming otherwise, has not understood, Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees:
“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, provides a simple rendering of this:
“Whosoever committeth sin … – In this passage Jesus shows them that he did not refer to political bondage, but to the slavery of the soul to evil passions and desires. Is the servant – Is the slave of sin. He is bound to it as a slave is to his master.
It is a foolhardy endeavour, leading those whom Christ― our Liberator, our Reward― has set free, back into Egypt’s house of bondage. We are wisely, exhorted by Paul to, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1)
Biblical justice and reconciliation ,
Thus, biblical liberation is not based on the mere work of human hands, or to put it another way―works-based righteousness. On the contrary, for the Christian it is by grace that we are saved through faith. And this is not of our own doing; it is the gift of God; that at all times, in all places, throughout all ages, Jesus Christ sets captives free. This freedom does nor require that we bind former fallen [self] identifications to ontologies of oppression, whatever they may be. It is in this sense, Paul speaks of the newly redeemed self ― “such were some of you”― as constitutive of the transformative work of the cross (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Renewal of the mind is not attained through the importation of humanistic concepts such as ‘decolonisation’, but rather through spiritual regeneration, which leads to restoration of right human relationships: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:2). In our new identity in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin, but we are reconciled to God (See Romans 6:6 & 5:10). And we know that wherever the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a mirror image of the way freedom is understood in this world. His kingdom is not of this world. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, when should this kingdom come, he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Luke 17:20-21). That is to say, Jesus did not come to conform us to the image of the god of this world―to the spirit of the present age―but rather to transform and renew our minds so that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God as we sojourn here on earth.
Moreover, the danger of fetishizing oppressed identities endemic to critical theory and its subvariants―critical social justice and critical anti-racist praxis, paradoxically, result in an idolatry, that thwarts the purposes of gospel transformation. The accompanying mantra of the ‘gospel of inclusion’, that for example, speaks of “giving voice to the marginalised” and “empowering the poor” merely by human effort, based on ever proliferating notions of difference, will not further liberation but rather perpetuate the perennial objectification and spiritual subjugation of those who are genuinely oppressed. More often than we would care to admit, when we through misguided ideological motives, make merchandise out of the poor and the disregarded, unwittingly, we create cycles of oppression. And perhaps it is for this reason, Jesus reminds Judas, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8).
The postmodern differentialist and intersectional logic underpinning social justice, tends towards the promotion of grievance narratives of oppressed groups perennially vying for power, which in turn creates hierarchies of oppression. It is what Gillian Rose has called a “despairing rationalism without reason.” In the biblical narrative the end goal of our redemption is not merely recognition of ones oppressed status as a member of some misrecognised identity group, although indeed, redemption includes those of every tribe, tongue, and nation who have responded to the gospel invitation of eternal salvation. The gospel offers a way out of the permanent struggle for power, propagated by CRT ideologues, as Paul reminds us of the authority, gifted to those who are in Christ: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Contrary to popular caricatures promoted by ‘social justice warriors’, of Jesus, he was not merely chilling with the prostitutes, pimps, tax collectors and all manner of misfits, telling supercool stories, while indulging them in their little light afflictions. Rather the opposite seems to have been the case, as Jesus enlightens the Pharisees, who questioned his disciples, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32), of which I am chief.
Nor is redemption merely the restoration of ones own personal autobiography, history or indeed identitarian epistemologies. Our personal testimonies are doing something quite different, and far more powerful within the grand narrative of the biblical story, as Rosaria Butterfield so succinctly, puts it:
God’s story is our ontology: it explains our nature, our essence, our beginnings and our endings, our qualities, and our attributes. When we daily read our Bibles, in large chunks of whole books at a time, we daily learn that our own story began globally and ontologically. God has known us longer than anyone else has. The Bible declares that he knew us from before the foundations of the world.
You see, not only is he Jesus of Nazareth, he is also Jesus of Narratives. The Alpha and Omega―the first and the last, the beginning and the end, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
We are told that the true children of God, those who keep his commandments. are they who overcame the dragon, “…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11). This simply speaking, is the beauty of God’s plan, and fundamentally, what distinguishes it historically from humanistic projects striving for reconciliation, justice, and peace, even within the contemporary paradigm of a ‘new global normal’. The church is not merely some sort of representational economy based on human whim and ingenuity, but rather, as we read in Peter’s epistle, “ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ….But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (2 Peter 2:5; 9). And again, as Paul reasons with the Athenian intellectuals, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (Acts 17:26-28). We are given a foretaste of that Christian hope―of the city the New Jerusalem, as John is given privy to, at the pinnacle of his numinous rapture: “And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelations 19:10):
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12 22-24)
The Implications of BLM for the Contemporary Church in the UK
The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. (Fanon 161, p. 42).
In this regard Fanon is right, though there are those who would argue to what degree this is true for each circumstance. It is not my intention to rehearse those debates here. However, while the colonial theodicy of western Christianity and its beleaguered history, continue to taint and ignore the remarkable historical trajectory of Black Majority Churches (BMC) here in the UK; they are indeed an authentic outworking of counter-cultural black struggles. Like the organic black struggles against racism in education discussed previously, the BMC movement, emerges in response to racism amongst Britain’s predominantly white church congregations, towards blacks, who had been excluded from participating. Today, in Black and Ethnic Minority Christians Lead London Church growth the Evangelical Alliance (2013) reports, “Nearly half of churchgoers in inner London (48 per cent) are black, 28 per cent in London as a whole, compared with 13 per cent of the capital’s population. That means nearly one in five (19 per cent) black Londoners goes to church each week. Two-thirds attend Pentecostal churches, though the black community is represented in every denomination. By contrast, in the rest of England the population is 90 per cent white, 2 per cent black.”
Coeval to the impact of African independence movements that took place between 1950-1975, inspiring black struggles against racial injustice in the education system in the UK, Churches in Africa were also impacted when the western colonial project came to an abrupt end in Africa. In Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelley writes, when the independent nations were created in the 1950s and 1960s,
…..A revival movement, which began in Rwanda-Burundian 1935, deeply influenced the churches in Uganda , Kenya, and Tanzania. Local churches of the African Inland Church in Kenya alone registered in 1978 about one million members. In the same year on the west coast, the Evangelical Churches of West Africa in Nigeria counted over 50,000 in 1,400 local congregations . Some generous estimates claimed that the number of Christians in Africa had reached 100 million.
That ‘revival’ has been ongoing, and as some scholars have suggested, a reverse flow of missionaries from Africa to Europe and the United States. It is not a novel idea, and can be traced back to the Ethiopianism inspired by a popular prophecy within black liberation movements, which can be found in Psalm 68:31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” The idea of the reverse mission has been around for a while as Lily Kuo, notes:
In 1880, a West African preacher named Edward Blyden predicted that one day Africa would be the “the spiritual conservatory of the world.” In the early 1900s, Daniel Ekarte, a sailor from Nigeria, started a church in the slums of Liverpool for both Africans and white British. Around the same time, a Ghanaian businessman, Kwame Brem-Wilson, also founded a pentecostal Sumner Road Chapel in Peckham, London and helped spread Pentecostalism in the UK.
Echoing this prophecy, Charles, Haddon Spurgeon, preached a sermon entitled, The Queen of Sheba, A Sign : “Cush will hasten to present peace offerings, Sheba’s Queen will come from the far South, Candace’s Chamberlain (Ethiopian eunuch) will ask about him who was led as a lamb to the slaughter. Abyssinia will be converted, and Africa will become the willing seeker after grace, eagerly waiting and embracing the Christ of God” (See also, 1 Kings 10; Matthew 12:42; Zephaniah 3: 9-13; Acts 8:26-39).
During the 1970s, it was recorded that the Evangelical Churches of west Africa, had 200 Africans serving as missionaries in Sudan, Chad, Niger, Benin, and Ghana, all endorsed and sent by the churches of Nigeria (Shelley 1995). Today that has increased exponentially, as Lily Kuo writes in a 2017 article for Quartz Africa, Africa’s “reverse missionaries” are bringing Christianity back to the United Kingdom, Quartz:
Since then, the growth of Christianity in the developing world, migration, and the explosion of diaspora churches have given the idea new currency. Today, the largest Christian church in Europe was started by a Nigerian pastor, Sunday Adelaja, who first went to the Soviet Union and Belarus in the 1980s to study journalism. In the US, the Catholic church has been recruiting African priests for years.
….“The typical identify of a missionary in this century will no longer be that of a Westerner serving in some remote areas of Africa, but probably that of a Mexican, a Nigerian, or perhaps a Korean serving practically anywhere in the world,” writes Harvey Kwiyani, a UK-based pastor originally from Malawi, in a 2014 book on the topic, Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West.
According to a Pew research Center Report 2015, by 2060 six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from three in 2015. This is in stark contrast to the growing decline of the Christian population in Europe and is especially notable in Britain where, a steady decline in Church of England and Church of Scotland” numbers. Only 14% of Britons identified as members of the Church of England—a record low. Similarly, Church of Scotland numbers dropped to 18% from 31% in 2002.
However, The rapid growth of Pentecostal churches in the UK, again is demarcated by the notable decline of mainline denominations in Britain, as a LSE study, Being Built Together (2017), into BMCs in the London borough of Southwark shows:
The most recent indirect count of BMCs prior to Being Built Together was the London Church Census 2012 which reported 131 Pentecostal congregations in the borough. Clearly our count is significantly higher, which points to the difficulty of characterising BMC numbers and growth, since many BMCs have minimal official presence on the internet or in other parachurch statistics. Such undercounting is difficult to avoid without researchers taking to the streets on a Sunday, particularly if you want to find less established first generation BMCs. More accurate information about BMC numbers means that the scale of their impact on the Southwark, London and British religious landscape can be better understood – 240 BMCs is nearly twice all the other churches in the borough put together.
A similar pattern is evident in the US, in relation to adherence to ‘committed religious belief’, and ‘church attendance’, is reported by the Pew research centre, where nearly eight-in-ten black Americans (79%) identify as Christian compared with seven-in-ten Americans overall (71%) who say they are Christian, including 70% of whites, 77% of Latinos and just 34% of Asian Americans.
Moreover, in their 2017 paper, Black American’s are more likely than the overall public to be Christian Protestant, David Masci, Besheer Mohamed, and Gregory, A. Smith note:
More than half of all black adults in the United States (53%) are classified as members of the historically black Protestant tradition. This includes those who tell us they belong to specific denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the Church of God in Christ. The category also includes black Americans who do not identify with a specific denomination but instead say they associate with a broader Protestant group (e.g., “just Baptist” or “just Methodist” or “just Pentecostal”) that has a sizable number of historically black denominations.
For the many among us black Christians, who may have wrongheadedly been accused of embracing the white man’s religion, based on the calumny that the Bible is a Western construct, should take heart at the growing body of theological work (the Bible being the oldest primary historical source), that refutes this. As documented in scholarly contributions to the work of The Centre For Early African Christianity, and The Christian History Institute, we learn that: “Christianity in Africa began in Egypt in the middle of the 1st century. By the end of the 2nd century it had reached the region around Carthage. Important Africans who influenced the early development of Christianity include Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo.”
The Kenyan theologian John Mbti, reminds us that, African belief in God existed before the arrival of missionaries. Contrary to popular belief, he asserts, “missionaries did not bring God to Africa, rather it is God who brought the missionaries here.” Racialised assumptions, that suggest otherwise, wrest Christianity from it’s historical Hebraic antecedents. Christianity started life as a Jewish sect, that attracted both Jewish and Gentile converts. As Mbti further observes, Christianity as it is commonly believed, was not introduced to Africa by European missionaries who arrived in the 19th century. Perhaps, even less widely known, some traditional Jewish communities in Africa are among the oldest in the world, dating back more than 2700 years, before Orthodox Rabbinical (Eastern European) Judaism. So it is also a noteworthy reminder, that African Jewry and the Jewish diaspora, are also constituted by ethnic and racial diversity.
Indeed, as the theologian Vince Bantu observes, “Christianity is not becoming a global religion. It has always been a global religion.” The notion that by virtue of my ‘blackness’, I seek to be ‘included’ into a kingdom that has been freely given to me as a gift of grace, is deeply condescending and incommensurable with the gospel message of freedom from the bondage of sin. No human can consign freedom to another. Have you not read, have you not seen that — who the Son sets free, is free indeed! “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18). I don’t have to fight or beg to be ‘included’ in the kingdom of God, it is my inheritance. Current top-down anti-racist claims for inclusion in response to anti-black racism in the church, in the UK, continue to ignore the unique historical and empirical reality of its own Black majority churches. Suffice to say, the concerns of the BMC, are not a mirror image of those that arise from the BLM movement, as Israel Olofinjana shows in writing about The impact of Black Majority Churches in Britain.
The ground-breaking work of Theologians such as Thomas Oden, Vince Bantu, and J. Daniel Hays, will have significant implications for how we understand questions of racial justice and black inclusion within contemporary theological discourse. Such works point us back to the Bible as our perfect source for understanding biblical justice, and serve as a corrective to the presumptive anti-black tropes of exclusion, supported by aberrant forms of colonial Christianity.
A closer reading of scripture guided by the holy spirit, will also show, that God’s redemptive plan of reconciliation and restoration, for which he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus, to reconcile us to him, is not the work of our own hands. But rather, we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, prepared for us before the foundations of the earth (Ephesians 2:10). “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Likewise, when we say, what does justice look like, we are to look to what the word says. What does God say about justice for the poor; for the widow and the orphan; and the stranger? What does God say about justice in relation to the criminal justice system; the education system; what does God say about racial justice , and so on. As with so many of the terms we have been grappling with here, in an attempt to disentangle them from the goals of emancipatory projects with a different teleology to that of biblical justice; ‘social justice’, yet another amorphous concept, has also provided cover for a multitude of strategies and projects within the church, that are incommensurable with the gospel..
As I have shown, anti-racists’, “…have frequently deployed racism to secure and develop their projects. The most characteristic form of this incorporation, is anti-racists’ adherence to categories of race ’; categories which, even when politically or ‘strategically’ employed, lend themselves to the racialisation process” (Bonett, 2000, p.2). We might tentatively locate the ideology of the BLM organisation, as being handmaiden to the promotion of this form of black essentialism, even in the face of its expressed avowal to the practice of intersectionality.
Also, we should be asking questions about how the ideology of BLM has become the overarching explanatory framework for understanding black lives, here in the UK. How does the goals and mission of BLM US speak to the needs of diverse black communities in the African Diaspora? Why are so many church leaders (predominantly mainline white liberal led churches) in the UK adopting BLM as a model, devised by a Marxist based movement which originated in the US, to inform anti-racist policy in the UK? How does the BLM US mission statement (which they have recently removed from their website), reconcile itself to the reality of Black Majority Churches in the UK―which are in the main family oriented, and largely conservative in their outlook? More importantly, why are they even speaking on behalf of black people? How does this philanthropic sentimentalism, differ to the controversy that ensued concerning the Kony 2012 debacle, in relation to the ‘neo–colonial’ dynamic of the white saviour industrial complex and its ‘African subjects’? The Nigerian-American Author, Teju Cole observed in a series of tweets at the time, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” Given the cultural factors we addressed in Part I of this essay, pertaining to the role of father absence within Afro-Caribbean communities, and the disproportionate numbers of Afro-Caribbean boys excluded from school, who are also disproportionately represented in the prison population, the criminal justice system and the mental health sector; how is the mission of BLM relevant or representative of the diverse and complex issues black communities face not only in the UK but the African Diaspora, too? Invoking the words of Dr Maya Angelou, BLM acolytes implore: “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable. (Black Lives Matter US Website)
Perhaps the salvific ambitions of BLM are far better suited to the soteriological ‘positionality’ of black liberation theology, of which Anthony Bradley in The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology, writes:
The notion of “blackness” is not merely a reference to skin color, but rather is a symbol of oppression that can be applied to all persons of color who have a history of oppression (except whites, of course). So in this sense, as Wright notes, “Jesus was a poor black man” because he lived in oppression at the hands of “rich white people.” The overall emphasis of black liberation theology is the black struggle for liberation from various forms of “white racism” and oppression.
James Cone, the chief architect of black liberation theology in his book A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), develops black theology as a system. In this new formulation, Christian theology is a theology of liberation – “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ,” writes Cone. Black consciousness and the black experience of oppression orient black liberation theology – i.e., one of victimization from white oppression.
In clarifying our definitions, perhaps as Christians, we will be better equipped to properly discern what is worth embracing (or not as the case may be), as we address racial injustice in all of its forms, while seeking to promote truth, goodness, love, and justice in all situations. This has not been an easy task for those unfamiliar with the historical foundations of anti-racist thinking. Increasingly, one can see a blurring of the boundaries between Christian theodicy―its telos and categories―with what I have been referring to here as a ‘new anti-racist theodicy’, in addressing questions about how best to do justice in a fallen world, stained by evil.
Unlike Fanon’s “new man” who is birthed through a violent cancellation of the theodicy of western civilisation―imputed by ‘whiteness’, evident in the mimicry of the colonized other―in Christ, we have a more perfect new man:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two[Jew and gentile], so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16).
As our opening text in Part I of this essay implies, within the overarching biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, God is sifting and gathering the nations, from every tribe and tongue.―”Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7) Attempts by emancipatory movements such as BLM, to disregard the role of ‘fathers’ in relation to the family, is a reflection of postmodernist efforts to usurp God―the Father. This is mere folly, and sadly resonant with the spirit of the age: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). He alone is, “The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Therefore, like the Psalmist we may also ask: “If the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” God is the judge. God is the one doing the reckoning.: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22), regardless of the leaven of modern day scribes, and their efforts to tinker with and reconfigure scripture. For indeed, as Kierkegaard observes, “…our times are not satisfied with faith and not even with the miracle of changing water into wine – they ‘go right on,’ changing wine into water.” Ultimately, the biblical narrative points towards the establishment of God’s true church as a supernatural entity, and J.I Packer in an excerpt from Concise Theology explains this well:
There is a distinction to be drawn between the church as we humans see it and as God alone can see it. This is the historic distinction between the “visible church” and the “invisible church.” Invisible means, not that we can see no sign of its presence, but that we cannot know (as God, the heart-reader, knows, 2 Tim. 2:19) which of those baptized, professing members of the church as an organized institution are inwardly regenerate and thus belong to the church as a spiritual fellowship of sinners loving their Savior. Jesus taught that in the organized church there would always be people who thought they were Christians and passed as Christians, some indeed becoming ministers, but who were not renewed in heart and would therefore be exposed and rejected at the Judgment (Matt. 7:15-27; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:1-46). The “visible-invisible” distinction is drawn to take account of this. It is not that there are two churches but that the visible community regularly contains imitation Christians whom God knows not to be real (and who could know this for themselves if they would, 2 Cor. 13:5).
Thus, the biblical view of ‘racial reconciliation’ transcends all human efforts based on hierarchies of oppression , or of one identitarian group supplanting the other. Whether those strategies employed are based on white supremacy, or the necessary anti-racist racism of oppositional movements such as BLM; the white nationalism of far-Right movements, or the various forms of ethnic, racial, or multi-cultural nationalisms, ascendant in our culture―ultimately, they will have no place in the body of Christ. We are commanded not to show partiality towards one another:
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9)
That is to say, God is no respecter of persons, even in the case of the apple of his eye―Israel/ the church: “ God’s eyes are upon the sinful kingdom, but also, “..the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Then indeed, shall the last be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:16).
//C.Carr © 2020
Artwork: Sebastião Salgado, Children in a school that is entirely supported by the Christian Children’s Fund, USA. [children in a tree], Thailand, 1987